NEW YORK (AP) — The monologue jokes were mostly thin and the host seemed stiff delivering them.
But jokes about the Winter Olympics that already felt irrelevant, and a few opening-night butterflies for the guy voicing them, could be excused. Soon enough, Seth Meyers seemed to gain control of his inaugural edition of “Late Night.”
Part of his subsequent comfort level had to be explained by his savvy choice of guests. Amy Poehler, his longtime pal and former “Weekend Update” deskmate on “Saturday Night Live” was the first guest of NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
His other guest: Vice President Joe Biden, who’s a talk show all by himself.
When Biden arrived to join Poehler, it made for a cozy trio. After all, Biden and Poehler have a history of their own, reaching back to his cameo appearance last season on her NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
“Amy really helped me with the Secret Service,” said Biden, who reported that when he had finished shooting his “Parks and Recreation” scene and was making his departure, the smitten Poehler grabbed a Secret Service agent by the lapels and demanded, “You take care of him!”
Poehler joked that she and Biden now plan to make a film together called “Snakes on a Train.” Then she declared that she was running for president in two years.
But when Meyers asked Biden what his own 2016 political plans might be, he sidestepped the question. He said he had meant to make a major announcement on the show, but changed his mind. As he explained to Meyers, “Tonight’s YOUR night. So I hope you’ll invite me back.”
The premiere of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” (which taped Monday evening for airing at 12:35 a.m. EST/11:35 p.m. CST), represented the final step in NBC’s talk-show turnover.
Meyers, who until early this month was an “SNL” veteran and co-anchor of its “Weekend Update” newscast, is filling the vacancy left by Jimmy Fallon after five years as “Late Night” host.
Fallon, of course, moved up last week to be host of “The Tonight Show,” replacing Jay Leno.
So far, the late-night changes are paying off. Riding the crest of NBC’s Olympics coverage, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” was seen by an average of 8.5 million viewers in its first week, the biggest “Tonight” audience in decades.
Can the 40-year-old Meyers make the most of this popular lead-in?
He comes to his new role as a talk-show host with demonstrated skill and appeal from his years as an “SNL” writer and performer.
He is known as a TV star who doesn’t hog the spotlight and enjoys playing the straight man. He is also known as cerebral, which, if not moderated, could work against him: One of his monologue jokes hinged on the viewer knowing who Doris Kearns Goodwin is. It wasn’t very funny either. And flopped.
Other jokes were more successful, even if they were larded by Meyers’ insistent pause-and-grin pacing.
He announced that the brassiere turns 100 years old this week – “and so does everyone who still calls it a brassiere.”
He noted that the Arizona Legislature passed a bill that would allow business owners asserting their religious beliefs to deny service to gay customers: “Some businesses have already put up signs that read, `Nice shirt, nice shoes, no service.'”
Later, he took another swing at Arizona during what may emerge as a durable humor franchise: Venn diagrams displaying what two seemingly different things have in common. One example: The intersection of Russia and the NBA was revealed to be “Places That are More Gay-Friendly than Arizona.”
The setting for Meyers’ “Late Night” is a sleek, art deco design. Sliding screens substitute for curtains.
As with most other talk shows, Meyers’ format provides for a musical guest. On his first night, it was the band A Great Big World.
Speaking of music, a valuable asset is the leader of Meyers’ house band, Fred Armisen, himself a musician as well as a comedian-performer – and clearly a funny sidekick. During a brief exchange, Meyers, playing the able straight man, questioned Armisen on one of his many projects, a new series on the History channel.
“It’s called `Recent History,'” said Armisen, deadpan. “It only goes back the past hour or so, but it has an historical spin. Very serious. Very dry.”
One other feature that seems to have potential: Meyers’ skill at relating a story. From his desk, he told a charming anecdote about an outing with his wife that went awry. With apparent effortlessness, he brought the tale to a finish by observing, “It’s hard to feel macho when you’re holding a tiny dog and another man is changing your wife’s tire.”
Words of wisdom, Seth. And funny, too.
Meyers’ “Late Night” might prove easy to like.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier